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Me and Mr. Kite
By John Hubner
Fort Wayne Reader
Yeah, I know. Like the world needs one more opinion on a Beatles album. I think everything that needs to have been said has been said. We get it. The Fab Four are great. They revolutionized rock and roll and popular music in general. What more needs to be said? Oxygen is pretty important. Let me tell you why! I think you're taking naps for granted and here's 1,000 words on the subject. So yeah, I know you probably don't want to hear another blowhard espouse the greatness of something like The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band...but that's exactly what's going to happen right now.
I've always loved The Beatles. Its' a dumb statement, really. Who doesn't love the Beatles? Sure, I'm sure those folks exist. I know a couple of them. They're free to not love the Beatles, but I'm certain they have no soul (who can listen to something like "In My Life" or "I Will" and not something inside of them melt? Who, dammit?)
For me the Beatles were ingrained in my head from the beginning. My parents only owned two albums, Sgt. Pepper and The White Album, but just those two records played in heavy rotation were enough to rewire my brain at 4 or 5 years old. I'd get that tingly sensation whenever "Back In The USSR" would start up and blast through the speakers. It started that that was my favorite song as a young whippersnapper, but as I got a little older I'd stick around for "Dear Prudence". That song was sad and plainspoken. It made me see colors and feel things I couldn't quite understand. There was something plain and earthy about The White Album. It was all over the map in terms of styles and sounds, but they all felt grounded. In some ways The White Album sounds like the first true indie rock record. A band that had the power of a religion behind them getting back to gritty basics.
But before they went all double album they created arguably one of the most important albums to be released in the last 50 years. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was unlike anything I'd heard before. While The White Album was grounded, Sgt. Pepper felt like some other world altogether. It was regal, pristine, buttoned up psychedelia, and some of the best songwriting the Fab Four would ever do. As a kid songs like "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite", "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", and "Within You Without You" were almost scary. They felt like these odd musical worlds to my adolescent ears. Places you could get lost in and if you weren't careful you may not come back from them. But then there was the tough, guitar-driven tracks like "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", "Getting Better", and "Good Morning, Good Morning" that would pull you out of those weird musical caverns. Gorgeous whimsy ran through songs like "Fixing A Hole", "Lovely Rita", and "When I'm Sixty-Four" that made everything alright. The use of "When I'm Sixty-Four" in the opening credits to George Roy Hill's The World According To Garp made that film all the more sadly underrated in my eyes. And then there was the majestic beauty of "She's Leaving Home". It may have caused weepy eyes late at night when I was wondering if my girlfriend was making a new life for herself in college back in 1992. It may have. Of course, "A Day In The Life" is really the ultimate John Lennon feat. A microcosm of the life of the plain guy. An existential musical trip into British life. The lyrics are both plainspoken and literal, as well as being coy and poetic. I can totally see how Paul Thomas Anderson based his magnum opus Magnolia on that one song. It feels like a lifespan in just one song.
Over the years I've gone through Beatles phases. I go from completely in love with them to "yeah, been there done that. Next." Of course that latter phase is complete crap. I always find my way back to what made me fall in love with them in the first place, at 4 or 5 years old. Sgt. Pepper is the ultimate piece of musical genius from John, Paul, George, and Ringo. That musical world is one I never tire of. When I'd heard a couple months ago that yet another reissue of this album was coming out my first thought was "Here we go again, EMI." I pretty much stayed away from all those 2009 reissues. I did end up buying Abbey Road and Let It Be on CD just because. But I stayed away from the Mono Reissue black hole and for the most part just stayed with my inferior original CD purchases from the early 90s. For some reason though I felt differently about Sgt. Pepper. Something in my head was saying "You need this. Get it." So against my better judgement I ended up listening to the voice in my head and ordered this new Sgt. Pepper reissue. I picked it up yesterday and I've been listening to it pretty much ever since. It's pretty brilliant.
I won't go into the technical jargon as I really can't comment on that. I'll say this, Giles Martin has taken a 50 year old classic and opened it up for all of us to hear with fresh ears. I liken it to the original version as a plain storybook and Giles has taken his dad's handiwork and turned it into a pop-up book. While before we were merely an audience looking at a beautifully ornamented painting, we are now walking into the painting and seeing that world for the first time, again. Each song seems to hold new secrets for us to discover. From the opening salvo of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" to the guitar punch of "Getting Better" to the psychedelic whimsy of "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite", there are new places to explore. "Within You Without You" sounds almost three dimensional. You feel surrounded by the sitar as George sings "We were talking, about the space between us all". That space has opened and enveloped us now. Those exquisite background vocals feel more present than ever. Listening to this you really do understand how the word "Beatles" has become an adjective when describing how vocals sound. "It's got a Beatles vocal sound to it."
The essence of this record hasn't changed. Nothing was drastically altered or re-colored for an updated look. It feels like the small details that have been lost in time and many, many format iterations over the last 50 years have been brought back into beautifully sharp focus. Things taken for granted -like those detailed vocal harmonies, the crispness of the harp in "She's Leaving Home", and dense sonics of "Within You Without You"- have all been pulled back up to the front for us to appreciate once again. The dust and grit of time have been removed. Sgt. Pepper can be appreciated all over again.
I can't say I'll continue buying up Beatles records if Giles wants to take other albums to task. I guess it depends on the album, I suppose. I can say that I have no regrets buying this one, though.
It truly is getting better all the time.